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Really Crappy Medical Advice!

On a recent episode of a TV talk show—which shall go unnamed—a doctor advised a woman who was planning to become pregnant to avoid contact with her three cats because of the risk of toxoplasmosis, a parasitic infection that can spread through cats’ feces and cause birth defects.

I’m always one for the “better safe than sorry” route, but it’s simply not necessary (or fair!) to ignore and avoid—or worse, abandon—your beloved feline friends when there’s a baby on the way. For one, indoor cats are extremely unlikely to carry toxoplasmosis, and second, even if they were infected, pretty much the only way that you could catch the parasite would be to actually touch the cats’ feces and then touch your mouth or eat before washing your hands. I don’t know about you, but I’m not going to be sifting through my darlings’ litterboxes with my bare hands anytime soon! That’s what scoopers are for, right?

Seriously, though, if you’re expecting and your doc tells you that Kitty has to go, you should consider getting rid of your obstetrician—not your cat! Cats can only contract Toxoplasma gondii (T. gondii) in a couple of ways: by eating raw meat or by hunting infected birds, mice, or other animals. Infected cats only—ahem—shed potentially infective “oocysts” in their feces for about two to three weeks (after which time, they develop immunity to the parasite). And since oocysts in feces don’t become infective until one to five days later, cleaning the litterbox daily—which needs to happen anyway, to keep kitties happy—will ensure that there isn’t anything icky hanging around.

For a healthy baby and happy kitties, follow these simple tips:

  • Keep cats indoors (this is vital for kitties’ safety—whether you’re pregnant or not).
  • Never feed cats raw or undercooked meat.
  • Wear gloves while scooping the litterbox and wash your hands thoroughly afterward. Better yet, enlist your spouse, partner, friend, or neighbor to handle litterbox duty until the baby arrives (I would take full advantage of this, if I were you!)
  • Clean cats’ litterboxes daily.
  • Wear gloves while gardening or working in the soil and thoroughly wash hands afterward—in case stray cats use your garden as a litterbox. • Thoroughly wash uncooked vegetables and fruit.
  • Go vegetarian, if you haven’t already, because the most common way that humans contract toxoplasmosis isn’t from cats but by eating raw or undercooked meat! So basically, if you’re a responsible kitty guardian and you use a little common sense, you have nothing to worry about! But if you’re still not sure, don’t take my word for it—check out what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has to say.

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  • Liz says:

    Oh no! That doctor was so ill informed- I would be scared to continue treatment with someone who offered advice like that! Toxoplasmosis is actually very easy to catch but unless you are pregnant or have an immuno-deficient disorder at the time of initial infection the only result is mild flu-like symptoms. According to wikipedia, around 88% of people in France are carriers and 22% of peole in Britain (where I come from) so it’s really quite a common disease. If you’ve had a cat for any ammount of time, it is very unlikely that you will not be a carrier; that’s a good thing because you’ll be immune to the problems toxoplasmosis in pregnancy causes. That doctor was an idiot: if the woman has owned cats for years (or even months) there is no danger to her from continued exposure to the toxoplasmosis parasite. Sorry for the long post; I got really freaked out by the hype around toxoplasmosis when I caught it off a fox in the rescue centre I volunteered for, and I though it might be helpful to get some information out there.

  • Donna says:

    I just heard a good one. The mother and grandmother of my son’s girlfriend just made the comment that they don’t want our cat to sit on their daughter. They’re afaid that the cat will smother the baby while it’s in the womb! OMG I can’t be this.

  • Amanda says:

    Unfortunately, cats are some of the worst-treated and talked-about animals in the US. People think it’s perfectly fine to do to a cat (kick, throw, and otherwise inhumanely torture) things they think is horrendous treatment for a dog.

    The “suffocation of a baby” is a myth. A very long time ago, people thought that cats were some sort of demon and could suck the soul out of humans and other living things. This eventually became enterpreted as “having a cat near a baby means the baby will suffocate or die”. It’s not true at all — in fact, cats are suckers for cuddling and their purring can actually help a baby fall asleep!

  • Jennifer Parker says:

    Thank you!! I had been wondering how I was going to tackle this if and when I became pregnant. I have three cats and I’d tell my obstetrician to go to “you-know-where” if they said I needed to get rid of my fur kids.

  • Shannon Saunders says:

    When I was pregnant I kept my cat and I cleaned the litter box and she had kittens. My doctor said it was a myth about cats and babies and having babies around animals was a good thing for many reasons. My daughter would watch the kitties and smile and her crawling came from her wanting to go after them. The whole experience was positive and many of my other friends say the same. Seriously it is just a myth. Cats and Babies are fine.

  • Susan Ballarini says:

    Toxoplasmosis causes severe deformities in a baby. A very simple thing to do is to get tested for it yourself and get your cat tested for it, as well as following the litterbox and hygiene tips. I had three babies and a houseful of cats who went outside. I never contracted this disease, but my friend, Sharon, who had two cats, did. She underwent treatment for it and in a certain amount of time (I can not remember) her doctor told her it was safe for her to conceive.
    I would NEVER give up an animal and kept all of my pets during my pregnancies and my children’s childhoods. One thing to remember when you have babies and cats in the same house is that THE CATS can get hurt, especially when they are kittens, by young children if they are not taught how to treat them kindly and gently and supervised properly. I also have two turtles named after my oldest daughter and myself, Susie and Cara, and have had them with me for almost 25 years, since my daughter’s birth.

  • Aubree says:

    I personally haven’t ever had a kid yet, but my older sister recently gave birth to a perfectly healthy baby boy. During her entire pregnancy she had her cat, Rocket, who she had gotten not very long before she learned she was pregnant. She took care of Rocket and her two older daughters throughout her entire pregnancy and eventually her son came out and there wasn’t anything wrong with him. She was also told to get rid of the cat after the baby was born, but she didn’t because she knew it wouldn’t be a problem. The only reason a cat would be able to smother a baby is if you allow them to sleep in the same room with them. Don’t get my wrong, my sister loves her cat, but she doesn’t let him sleep in the same room as her, which would also be the same room as the baby. You can love your cat, but in cases like a new baby it’s better to be safe than sorry. Unless you clean the litter box with your bare hands or are EATING the cat uncooked (Which, by the way, is totally disgusting, just making a point)then you shouldn’t be in trouble. God, people are stupid. I mean, come on, Doc!

  • Hope says:

    I had this when I was pregnant. My Doc told me that seeming as I have been around cats all my life that its more likely some thing that I had way before I became pregnant. Nothing to worry about, my body had already had the immunity for it.
    So maybe if its some thing that people are concerned about, they should go and get tested before they become pregnant. If they are fine then just have some one else clean the litter :)
    Please don’t use it as an excuse to get rid of a loving family member.

  • Lianne Lavoie says:

    Lisa, I wasn’t saying that kitty litter would scratch a pregnant woman’s eye but not another woman’s eye. I said that it scratched the fetus’ eye. I don’t know exactly how that happened, but I think it’s rather rude and immature of everyone to be dismissing me as not knowing what I’m talking about. My friend is blind in one eye; I’m not making that up. Just because you like cats doesn’t mean you should blindly assume that they couldn’t possibly cause any harm. Just don’t change kitty litter when you’re pregnant. Get someone else in the family to do it, and you’re good to go.

  • Sylvia Miller says:

    My sister-in-law was told the same thing by her doctor. “Just get rid of the cat” he said, like its an old piece of furniture, you can just throw out! Of course she kept the cat and the baby is fine. It makes me so mad that people actually do those things and abandon their animals so fast. Its a sad world.

  • cheyenne says:

    that is rediculous for a doctor to say that! people get sick from being around other people but your not going to stop socializing! first off the cats NEED there owner and second, its not like the pregnant woman is going to eat the cats feces! LOL! rediculous! no cats gonna give her kid birth defects, thats so fake! go cats!

  • Roxanne says:

    I was watching the show “The Doctors” and was very upset to hear the women doctor tell a woman who was pregnant to “get rid of” her cats. This is on national t.v. I wonder how many people watched that and did just that?! That doctor obviously does not like cats and should be made to made to retract what she said. My mom had 5 children and we always had many pets; we all turned out healthy.

  • treehugger says:

    lisa, I thought that she meant that the lady she knows inhaled cat litter, but either way it’s not physically possible, regardless of the method which the woman supposedly got it into her body.

  • MADDIE says:

    SOOO TRUE. I KNOW A WOMAN WHO CONTRACTED TOXOPLASMOSIS WHEN PREGNANT WITHOUT HAVING CONTACT WITH A CAT NEITHER AT HOME NOR OUTSIDE. SHE UNDERWENT A MEDICAL TREATMENT AND THE BABY WAS JUST FINE. SHE EATS MEAT ONLY (NO WONDER WHY SHE GOT INFECTED…) NEVER DUMP YOUR BEST FRIEND JUST BECAUSE SOME DOCTOR SAYS SO!

  • Lisa says:

    I have to agree with Lee, above, regarding feeding your cats raw, organic meats. I’m kinda suprised that an article for PETA would completely disregard the fact that we’ve only been feeding our companions cooked, processed foods for about 60 years, and look at the skyrocketing rates of horrible diseases these furries are subjected to. you can draw a direct link between diet and health; why would you forget about the four-legged’s? I’m afraid that ‘adapting’ a carnivore’s diet to suit a human’s personal beliefs is unfair, and dictatorial.
    also, to the person claiming that kitty litter will scratch a pregnant woman’s eye, but not someone who’s NOT pregnant…please do some fact checking before believing complete urban legends. also, check out some “litters” that aren’t litter- we use a scoopable pine cat litter. I wouldn’t recommend shoving it into your eyes, but it does not create the dust of conventional litters, nor does it contain harmful elements that can contribute to lung diseases in your cat’s later years.

  • treehugger says:

    A friend of mine is blind in one eye because it was scratched by kitty litter when she was in the womb.
    -There is no way that can be true unless the woman was literally eating kitty litter by the handful and the litter someone snuck through the almost microscopic holes of the barrier into the amniotic fluid. Pretty unlikely.
    And what is this whole “cats suffocate children” thing? I’ve heard that over and over (usually from those that qualify for telling old wive’s tales) but I’ve never heard of it actually happening. hmmm….

  • ROBERTA says:

    oh, other thing! Even if a person gets toxoplasmosis, the pre-born exams can show it easily and the woman can take medication to protect the baby! I’m not pregnant, and I take all the precautions and hygiene procedures with my cats (and the cats I rescue from the streets) and even though I do make the tests once an year!

  • ROBERTA says:

    Information is the best medication!! I’m always hearing people saying that they hate cats because of toxoplasmosis… I’m just sorry for these people. I already new the information above and shut the mouth of many people! Oh, please… go read a book, talk to a vet or find it on the net before saying stupid things like: “you will get a disease living with your cat!” I can catch lots of diseases just by walking on the streets!
    One time I rescued a cat and a stupid girl said to me: “Oh my god, do you know where this cat were, he can transmit lots of diseases…! I Said to her:
    “Ok, and you: do you know where the guys you kiss in the nigh put their mouth???!”

  • david says:

    This is to Lianne, Where or where did you get the story about kitty litter scratching the eye of an unborn child?? How did it get in there and in to the eye?? We had a cat and a dog while my wife was pregnant and i changed the litter box and still do. it is one of my chores and i don’t mind it.

  • Lianne Lavoie says:

    I’ve never heard of toxoplasmosis before, but I do know that you should NOT be changing a litter box when you’re pregnant! The reason for that is that you can inhale bits of kitty litter which can damage the fetus. A friend of mine is blind in one eye because it was scratched by kitty litter when she was in the womb. So by all means keep your cats, but pregnant women should not be changing kitty litter, and it’s dangerous to suggest otherwise.

  • Christina says:

    I must have been lucky when I was pregnant. My doctor never said a word about toxoplasmosis, despite knowing I lived with two feline companions. I think she assumed I knew the risks.

    I wasn’t taking chances though, so I chose to discuss it with the vet, who essentially that since I’ve lived with cats for years the chances of me being affected were next to zero. Of course, he said if I was concerned I should either have someone else take care of the litterbox while I was pregnant or take precaution of wearing gloves and a mask and washing my hands immediately after cleaning the litterbox. I had someone else take care of it though. Good thing I had volunteers, by the end of my pregnancy, I wouldn’t have been able to bend down to clean those litterboxes if my life depended on it. lol

    I don’t know what I would have done if someone told me not to have contact with the darling furballs I live with. While they’re both cuddlers, one is extremely attached to me. As soon as I sit down, she’s on my lap and kneading my stomach. The only way to have no contact with them is to get rid of them, which is out of the question. I don’t think of them as pets, they are my friends, my companions… And that makes them part of my family.

    On a side note, its a good thing I would never consider banishing those cats. My little kneader was actually a big help during my pregnancy. That child was extremely active at night, and the kneading seemed always seemed to calm him down. If not for that cat, I don’t think I would have gotten any sleep during those last four months. lol

  • jenna says:

    question why would the dr tell u stay away from cats?i understand wild cats or outside cats. but why stay away from cats that stay inside?

  • Rochelle says:

    Agreeing with Ashley-if you’ve had cats for most of your life or even just for a year or two before becoming pregnant, you have already been exposed to it and developed antibodies, you would have nothing to worry about! I wish human doctors had to learn as much about zoonotic diseases as veterinarians do!
    The only way you would ever have to worry about this is if you got a cat for the first time ever WHILE you were pregnant and if you were immunocompromised (chronic diseases, etc) or very careless about how you handled the kitty litter box.

  • Lee Marinaki says:

    I agree with the author on the common sense approach; there is so much fear-mongering out there.

    I do feel however that keeping a cat indoors is very often not practical and can be cruel in itself. And as for raw meat – that’s what a cat eats naturally! My veterinarian (bless her) advised me the closer to my cat’s natural diet I could get (raw, fresh, organic meat), the better for her overall feline health.

    And keeping my cat as close to her natural lifestyle as possible is what works for me. Hope you find the way that works for you. And your animal friends!

  • Wendy says:

    I’m sick of people who give up companion animals left and right as soon as they decide to “breed” themselves. A companion animal is a lifetime decision and obligation, not a throw away doll or inconvenience.

  • Ashley says:

    A very important fact to know as well that wasn’t mentioned in this article: if you’ve grown up around cats, chances are you possess the antibodies protecting you against Toxoplama Gondii, the bacteria that causes Toxoplasmosis. Being outdoors around where cats buried their feces, ie. a garden or by cleaning a indoor cats litter box, you are constantly exposing yourself and forming antibodies.
    If you wish, you can take you cat to the vet and have tests run to see if they are hosts to the bacteria, however it is costly; and your doctor should have been able to tell you that you could have yourself tested first to see if you have the antibodies, it’s much cheaper and even if you don’t just by wearing a mask and gloves while cleaning a litterbox is enough to protect you while pregnant.
    Sorry for the massive run on sentences, but hopes this gives others some more info to use. If you want to verify the info, call your Vet.

  • Amanda Goodwin says:

    Wow! when i was pregnant i had two cats at the time, I had to clean there litter boxes because my husband was deployed AND i was volunteering in the cat section of the humane society. When i had my daughter there was nothing wrong with her…

    I also have been told to get rid of my cats after i had her because people would tell me that the cats will suffocate my daughter while she is sleeping. Well its been over a year and my daughter is still alive and well!

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